#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Atlanta Hawks for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Atlanta Hawks, who figure to end their lengthy playoff streak and compete for one of the top picks in the 2018 NBA draft.

15. Nicolas Brussino: 1.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-11.01 TPA (for Dallas Mavericks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (Jordan McGillis)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

If Nicolas Brussino can’t find success from beyond the arc, sticking in the NBA will become a rather difficult proposition. The 6’7″ swingman spent his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks, and he failed to carve out a rotation role while hitting on just 30.5 percent of his three-point attempts. Brussino was an unremarkable player in Argentina who relied on spot-up attempts to score his points, and it doesn’t look as if that role is changing anytime soon.

14. Quinn Cook: 1.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.6 points, 0.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.3 steals, minus-22.17 TPA (for Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (Frank Urbina)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

“Staying paranoid,” Quinn Cook said about the type of mentality that will help him stick, per NBA.com’s Jim Eichenhoffer. “I’ve never gotten too comfortable or complacent or looked ahead. I just try to win every day. There are a lot of guys in my situation who have done that, gotten an opportunity and never looked back.”

He shouldn’t be comfortable yet, either. The Atlanta Hawks may have signed him to a two-year contract, but it’s only partially guaranteed. And if he can’t keep showcasing his playmaking skills while connecting from beyond the arc at an impressive rate—42.3 percent on 1.9 attempts per game as a rookie—he’ll be a prime candidate to be waived and cede minutes to the other members of this young backcourt.

13. Tyler Dorsey: 1.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 126.86 TPA (for Oregon Ducks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Will Tyler Dorsey settle in as a point guard or a shooting guard? He’s shown flashes of ability at both positions, thriving as a slashing threat at Oregon while also involving his teammates whenever he was asked to work as a primary facilitator. But without elite quickness and in possession of a 6’5″ frame, he could have a tough time matching up at his more natural position—the 2.

A number of voters saw potential in Dorsey by grading him as a depth piece, which is by no means an unappealing score for a player selected at No. 41 in the 2017 NBA draft. But it’ll be tough for him to make good on that upside if the distributing acumen doesn’t translate.

12. Miles Plumlee: 2.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-35.37 TPA (for Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

One of the two prizes(?) in this summer’s Dwight Howard trade, Miles Plumlee won’t provide anything more than depth at the 5 for the Hawks. He’s been a poor man’s two-way center in previous years, using his motor to overcame his lack of top-tier wingspan on the defensive end and contributing in the pick-and-roll offensively. But during his brief time with the Charlotte Hornets in 2016-17, he only managed to contribute 0.8 points per possession as a roll man, which left him in the 14.2 percentile.

If that doesn’t change quickly, he’ll find himself glued to the bench all season.

11. DeAndre’ Bembry: 2.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-32.37 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Andrew Bailey)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Until DeAndre’ Bembry overcomes his shooting woes, he’ll have a tough time breaking into the featured portion of the Atlanta rotation. The former Saint Joseph’s standout has plenty of potential in so many different areas, but he’s tough to use in head coach Mike Budenholzer’s offensive schemes when his presence wrecks the team’s spacing.

Bembry shot just 31.2 percent from beyond the NCAA arc during his three collegiate seasons, including a miserable 26.6 percent in his final campaign before declaring for the draft. But he was even worse as a rookie with the Hawks, going 1-of-18 (5.6 percent) from beyond the arc. He did show off with a 3-of-6 performance in four Las Vegas Summer League appearances, though, so perhaps a bit of optimism can persist.

10. Malcolm Delaney: 2.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.4 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals, minus-146.88 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Tim Stubbs)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Rookie point guards can often struggle in the Association as they learn how to create their own shooting opportunities and deal with careless turnovers. The game is just that much faster, after all. But Malcolm Delaney took his offensive struggles to the proverbial next level, as his placement in NBA Math’s offensive points added indicates when stacked up against all other first-year contributors:

That’s…not ideal.

His work overseas indicates he’s far better at creating off the bounce than he displayed in 2016-17, but he needs to prove himself—and quickly.

9. Luke Babbitt: 2.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-38.02 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Nick Birdsong)

Depth pieces often need one go-to skill, and Luke Babbitt most assuredly possesses one. Without his shooting acumen, 11 members of our 16-person panel likely wouldn’t have called him a depth piece in this preseason exercise.

Babbitt worked his way into the Miami Heat’s starting lineup out of necessity, but he then proved he might actually belong because his floor-spacing habits were so valuable in the drive-and-kick offense. He knocked down 41.4 percent of his three-point attempts while taking 3.1 per game, which means hitting at over a 40 percent clip in Atlanta would give him four consecutive campaigns in that exclusive category.

8. John Collins: 3.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 20
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.6 blocks, 124.33 TPA (for Wake Forest Demon Deacons)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Tim Stubbs)

The No. 19 pick of the 2017 NBA draft, John Collins immediately began looking like a steal with his high-flying habits in exhibition season. During five games for the Hawks in Las Vegas Summer League, the Wake Forest product produced plenty of highlight-reel dunks while averaging 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. Better still, he looked comfortable as he slashed 59.3/100.0/66.7.

Yes, this is only summer league. Plenty of standout performances during the hottest months of the year flop when contests actually count. But Collins still looked the part of a future star and franchise centerpiece, doing enough to convince five different voters he should already be considered a high-end backup.

7. Mike Muscala: 3.31

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 25.1 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Last season, Mike Muscala shot 41.8 percent from downtown while launching 1.6 treys per game. Pau Gasol was the only big man who could match those numbers throughout 2016-17. On the other end of the floor, Muscala held opponents to 49.3 percent shooting while protecting the rim, and he did so while squaring off against an even four attempts per contest. This time, only 21 other players could match those figures—a larger group than the previous one, but still impressively small.

Does this mean Muscala is a two-way star? Of course not. But it does show his skill in a number of different areas, which helps make him a convincing second-string option who no voter graded as anything worse than a depth piece or better than a high-end backup. Few players had such little variance between their highest and lowest marks.

6. Marco Belinelli: 3.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 31
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-67.36 TPA (for Charlotte Hornets)
  • Highest Grade: 5 (Tony East)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

The first member of Atlanta’s roster to receive a starting vote, Marco Belinelli joins Miles Plumlee as one of the prizes(?) of the Dwight Howard trade. And quite frankly, he could remove the question mark if he keeps playing like he did with the Charlotte Hornets last season—far from a pipe dream when the Budenholzer system should fit his style perfectly.

Belinelli’s stock is still recovering from his atrocious tenure with the Sacramento Kings, one in which he shot just 38.6 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from beyond the rainbow during 68 appearances off the bench. He’s still a talented marksman who can overcome his advancing age and defensive porosity to add value to his team’s efforts, even if he’s more of a specialist than anything else these days.

5. Taurean Prince: 3.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, minus-47.77 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Based on FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projections, Taurean Prince’s three closest comparisons stem from Rick Fox, Danny Granger and Rodney Rodgers. And the Hawks shouldn’t complain if the rising sophomore turns into any of those forwards, though they’ll certainly hope he develops into an even more dangerous three-point shooter.

But the development won’t be sudden. Matching his playoff numbers (11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 55.8 percent from the field) would make for a great start, especially as he shows off his defensive versatility in a starting role. The Hawks presumably want him to become a wing capable of guarding multiple positions and switching on most screens, and proving them correct would go a long way toward justifying the three optimistic voters who decided he was already a low-end starter heading into his second professional season.

4. Ersan Ilyasova: 4.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 13.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-17.51 TPA (for Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

At this point, we know just about what to expect from Ersan Ilyasova.

Though he won’t do much on the defensive end, given his limited foot speed and shaky instincts, he’ll always display a willingness to sacrifice his body. One of the NBA’s true charge-taking masters, he slid in front of 0.44 opponents per game in 2016-17—a tally literally no one who played in at least 30 games could match. And yet, offense remains his bread and butter, thanks largely to his floor-spacing abilities and knack for finishing plays all over the half-court set. Ilyasova might not be someone you want to build around, especially as he enters his 30s, but he’s the type of rotation player many teams would love to have on the roster.

3. Kent Bazemore: 4.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, minus-31.87 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

After a 2015-16 campaign in which he posted 12.64 TPA for the Hawks, Kent Bazemore signed a four-year, $70 million contract to remain with the team. Then he promptly forgot how to shoot the basketball, knocking down only 40.9 percent of his field-goal attempts and 34.6 percent of his triples. Declining in nearly every area led to the TPA plummet, and his contract now looks like one of the league’s more unpalatable commitments.

But Bazemore still has time to turn this around. He’s only 28 years old, still in possession of the athleticism and rangy defensive skills that made him a switching terror full of energy and drive to contribute on both ends. It’s just his offense that’s lagging behind the developmental curve, and Budenholzer’s ball-sharing strategems have teased out impressive offensive production from far more limited wings in previous seasons.

2. Dewayne Dedmon: 4.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 44.37 TPA (for San Antonio Spurs)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

With Dewayne Dedmon on the bench, the San Antonio Spurs allowed 105.4 points per 100 possessions in 2016-17. That’s an impressive enough figure, but it still pales in comparison to the 100.1 defensive rating the team posted while it’s now-departed center was patrolling the paint. Regardless of the teammates with whom he was suiting up, the breakout big was able to hedge and recover against screens while shutting down the interior. He was a legitimate defensive menace, and the Hawks now hope he can maintain those skills for Spurs East.

Of course, Dedmon is by no means a perfect player. He’s not even perfect on the defensive end, which is why only nine of the 16 voters thought he graded out as a starting-caliber player. Until he becomes a higher-volume offensive contributor and avoids the excessive fouling that sends opponents to the stripe for free points, he’ll struggle to earn the minutes necessary to move into the fives and ascend higher up these rankings.

1. Dennis Schroder: 5.81

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 17.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-35.29 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)

In a vacuum, Dennis Schroder’s play throughout the 2016-17 campaign did not deserve unanimous recognition as a starting-caliber player. Though he posted gaudy per-game offensive figures for the Hawks, he was was an inefficient and inconsistent shooter who struggled with turnovers and often functioned as a sieve on the defensive end. For all his speed and physical tools, he got fooled far too frequently in the pick-and-roll, ceding 0.88 points per possession to opposing ball-handlers and finishing in the 40.4 percentile.

But growing pains should’ve been expected during Schroder’s first season as the unquestioned starter.

Now, with the departures of Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap, he’s quite clearly the best player on Atlanta’s roster. And yet, he’ll still be just 24 years old at the start of the next campaign, giving him more than enough time to continue trending up—something he’s done during each and every season of his Peach State tenure. As he grows more efficient on offense and continues recognizing sets defensively, he’ll leave little doubt he can be a long-term answer at point guard with the enduring potential to become so much more.


Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun Baradwaj, Nick Birdsong, Michael Brock, Tony East, Dan Favale, Adam Fromal, Ryan Jarvis, Jordan McGillis, Tom Rende, Brian Sampson, Adam Spinella, Eric Spyropolous, Tim Stubbs, Frank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo